Monday, October 13, 2014

My BRLT – 1980 to 2010



My appearance on the BATON ROUGE LITTLE THEATRE stage over these four decades (80s, 90s, 00s and 10s) was limited to just 12 productions which is why I have packaged them all into one post.


In 1981 THE AUBIN LANE DINNER THEATRE launched THE KING AND I.  John Wilson cast me as the King of Siam and once again Constance Navratil was cast as Anna.   Her previous appearance as Anna was at BRLT in 1963 when Aubrey Moore was the king.   Our 1981 AUBIN LANE production was most rewarding with full houses every night.   Because this production required about a dozen or more “children” ranging in ages 5 to 17,  Baton Rouge’s theatre community would benefit from this new crop of future thespians.   Some of these very same children had previously appeared in ALDT’s production of SOUND OF MUSIC in which I portrayed Captain Von Trapp in 1979, directed by Henry Avery.  SOUND OF MUSIC at ALDT would be revived again in 1984 with me as Von Trapp once again and yet an even newer crop of future thespians.   And then, believe it or not, I would be asked by the then Baker Little Theatre director Tom Jones to perform Von Trapp once again in 1986, thus cultivating again a new crop of thespians.  Wheew!



 

 

I was now DONE with SOUND OF MUSIC. 

 

My friend, Becky Horne, observed that I was the most prolific stage dad in Baton Rouge.  Not only had I appeared 3 times in SOUND OF MUSIC, but had gobs of kids in the KING AND I and would appear as the father in BRLT’s CLOSE TIES in 1988 where I would be the father of then theatre favorites Nick Cardona, Terry Serio, Julie Miller, Jamie Wax and Flossie Barker not to mention having been a father in CAMELOT, I OUGHT TO BE IN PICTURES,  CAROUSEL, KISMET and SHOW BOAT and a soon-to-be father Stanley Kowalsky in STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1959).



Thought I would give the reader an opportunity to read this David Foil piece from 1981.  I've had several bio-write-ups, but this one is by far my favorite.

(Click to enlarge)
(Click to enlarge)


In 1981 Henry Avery cast me as Don Quixote in Baton Rouge’s First Baptist Church production of MAN OF LA MANCHA. Besides myself the cast consisted of Jean Koprowsky as Aldonza,  John  Fichtel as Sancho, Louis Herthem as Pedro, Terry Byars as the Barber and Victoria Edwards as a gypsy dancer/prostitute.  This was another  among many very gratifying productions.





In 1982 BRLT’s newest director, Henry Avery, cast me as the father in Neil Simon’s I OUGHTA BE IN PICTURES.   I almost dropped out of the cast.  One night during rehearsal my wife Gloria called at the theater and said that our oldest son, Jerry III, had been seriously injured in a pyrotechnic  accident.   Because Gloria’s car was in the shop, I had to excuse myself and rush home so she and I could go to the OLOL emergency room. 

Both of Jerry’s legs and ankles were shattered.  The vigil would begin.

With considerable reluctance I agreed, as a favor to Henry, to take small roles in 2 productions over the first half of the 80s.  The productions were BUS STOP and WESTSIDE STORY.  In 1985 I agreed to do Sheriff Dodd in BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS.  This role of Sheriff Dodd was anything but a small role.   Performing in WHOREHOUSE was one of many very fulfilling roles among my many BRLT stage appearances.

One afternoon during the run of WHOREHOUSE I was taking a walk in my neighborhood when I heard a voice calling “Jerry”.  I looked behind me to see a neighbor catching up to me.  She was Shirley Bartett, a very nice lady who lived in the neighborhood and  who was a member of Jimmy Swaggert’s Ministry.  She said to me “I’ve got a bone to pick with you, Jerry”.  I suspected her apprehensions, but I nonetheless  asked that she explain her “bone”.  She said “Last Sunday at church Reverend Swaggart told the congregation that he hoped none in his congregation will go see the Little Theater’s production of ‘Best Little hm hm in Texas’.  He dared not say that word“.  I said “Shirley, he really said that?”  She said “Yes he did and he said he was especially shocked that Jerry Leggio and Victoria Edwards would be performing in such a show.”  From that date through the end of our run we had full houses.   Lesson here:  if you doth protest too much, you may become victim of your own protests.

Before the close of the 1980s I managed to perform in several more  AUBIN LANE productions…. In particular was the role of Julian Winston in CACTUS  FLOWER, another meaty role I was privileged to enjoy portraying.   Also appearing in that cast were 2 very talented ladies:  Laura Hudman and Pat Monrad.
Displaying Cactus.jpg
Displaying Cactus Flower.jpg

The following year (1986) Henry again prevailed on me to take a role.  In this case it was that of Cap’m Andy in SHOWBOAT.  I really did not want to do this part because I felt completely unfit for it.  But Henry insisted and I managed to develop into it though I would have preferred NOT having done it. 

In 1989 I would again be drafted into a BRLT revival of FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM.   This was my 3rd appearance in FORUM.  I first appeared in the BRLT 1966 production as Miles Gloriosus, then again as Miles in the 1981 AUBIN LANE version.    In 1989 now at the age of 54 I was too old  to revive the role of Miles and was cast instead as Senex, who along with Nonie Banks as my wife comprised the parents of Hero, the “hero” of FORUM.  Miles was now awarded to a younger actor.


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In the 90s I did only 2 shows:  A FEW GOOD MEN and HOMESPIN.  In FGM I was cast as Colonel Nathan Jessup, a
splendid role and one of my very favorites.  HOMESPIN was a Jamie Wax creation.  I was cast as Senator Malbeaux with Stephanie Levert in the role of my wife.   George Jones and Jean Maier portrayed my parents.   Jean was at least 10 years younger than me and justifiably felt strange playing my mom, but what the hell … I was OK with it.

Of particular note was an opening night late entrance.  My parents in the script, George and Jean, were seated in their living room indulging in a brief conversation.   I was to enter amidst their conversation.  Well on opening night I realized, while sipping coffee in the green room, that there was no dialog happening on stage, THEN I realized I had missed that entrance.   I charged to the entrance door and just before charging in I heard a deafening roar of laughter from the audience.  What the hell?!  Realizing I am late, I wait for the laughs to begin subsiding and then I enter.   We managed to get through the rest of that scene.  At intermission I apologized to George and Jean for the late entrance and George said  “Don’t apologize.  We got a huge laugh.”  George said “Since it was obvious you weren’t making your entrance I realized that Jean and I were simply occupying dead space.  So I pointed at her and said ‘Pull my finger.’  Obviously this bought us more time until you FINALLY made it in.”




Even though I only performed in 2 productions at BRLT during the 90s, I must admit that another  theater venue enthralled me during the 90s :  Dee Cothern’s CABARET  THEATER  ….  Dee mounted some terrific productions at CABARET and I was delighted to have been a part of some.  Her very first show, DRIVING MISS DAISY starred, besides myself as Boolie,  Pat Snow as Daisy and Leslie Rainey as Hoke.


A year or 2 later she cast me as Ben Chambers in NORMAN, IS THAT YOU.   What a gem of a role!  I so delighted in portraying this concerned father role that I was saddened when the show ended.



The 2000s saw me in fewer still.  My dear friend, Hollywood’s Louis Herthem, agreed to guest direct SLY FOX at BRLT.  Leading the cast were the immensely talented Ray Gaspard and Walter Brody plus local notables John Noland and Hal Dyess.  I loved my small role as “the Judge”.  This was a raucous comedy and was truly well received by grateful Baton Rouge audiences.

As a favor to guest director, Dee Cothern, I agreed to take a supporting role in the BRLT’s 2002 revival of WESTSIDE STORY.

Then, after badgering the theater board to revive INHERIT THE WIND I managed to win the choice role of this production ... Henry Drummond.  Directed by Dee Cothern, this was perhaps the meatiest and most fulfilling dramatic  role I ever had the privilege of performing.  The review headline here says it all.


Sorry for not posting the entire review.  As you can see from the first paragraph I somehow managed to stain this clipping.  The rest of the clipping is even worse.

Let me not forget another Jamie Wax creation, PASSAGES, which opened and ran shortly after we closed INHERIT THE WIND.  I agreed to play Thomas Jefferson.   Not a BRLT production,  this historic musical dramatization of Lewis and Clark’s epic homeland explorations and adventures was immensely ambitious  directed by Page Parsons with music composed and directed by Paul Taranto.  We opened in Lake Charles, then ran at LSU’s Union Theater and was video-recorded for broadcast on WRKF.


My next appearance on the BRLT stage was in 2010 when I agreed, as a favor to my dear friend Jack Wilson, to be a part of the theatre’s revival of CAMELOT, a production with which I was quite familiar having performed in BRLT's 1971 production as Lancelot and then again in 1980 at ALDT as King Arthur.   Jack Wilson, who at this time in 2010, was a recent throat cancer survivor,  turned in a sterling King Arthur portrayal.   After declining the role of Pellinore I agreed to do Merlin.   How very relieved I was when I turned down Pellinore.  John Salinger  turned in a stand-out Pellinore performance.  And Jennifer Ellis delivered a wonderful portrayal of Guinevere.

In the 1978-79 season BRLT launched Neil Simon's SUNSHINE BOYS starring B.J. Hopper and Bob Earle (now both deceased).  These 2 gentlemen, with whom I had had the privilege of sharing the stage with on many occasions, led the pack among BRLT's most popular standout performers.  And no I was not in that SUNSHINE BOYS  production.  But if THEATRE BATON ROUGE does not soon choose to produce a revival, I will be too old for either of the 2 leading  “old codger” roles.  OMG!

While I was not able to boast a prolific theater experience during the 1980 through 2010 period, I did manage to hook many substantial supporting, cameo and lead film roles during this era including ERNEST GREEN STORY,  HOT PURSUIT,  THE MISSISSIPPI,  DANGEROUS CURVES,  DOUBLECROSSED,  HIDE,  LA-308,  JAKE LASSITER,  MALPRACTICE,  ORLEANS,  OLD MAN,  QUANTUM APOCALPSE,  AMERICAN HORROR STORY,  TERROR EXPERIMENT and MOTHMAN.   This last one,  MOTHMAN, continues to re-appear on the SciFi network and generated great reviews for my role including a most recent appearance in the UK's Horror Cult Film website:




There is also a blind man who pretty much steals every scene, and provides some of the films highlights. Played by Jerry Leggio, Frank Waverly has had a run in with The Mothman before, and while he brings some menace and terrific acting, he also asks the question which is on all our minds: why the Hell do we celebrate a creature that kills people in Point Pleasant?


And then there was my biggest honor (2nd only to Gloria's "yes" when I proposed in 1959).  This past May the Louisiana International Film Festival chose me to be the first recipient of the ANNE PRICE LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD in recognition of my Louisiana motion picture pioneering efforts.

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